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Taking a TRIP into the Unknown

What started out as an internship at the Times of India for Indranil Sarkar transformed into a forum, which promised to spread the hard comings of the rural people. It all started when he was given the opportunity to visit Yavathmal, a village in Maharashtra. He jumped at the chance to speak to local farmers, having discerned that the region was infamous for being the farmer suicide capital of India. Indranil then discovered something startling; most of the suicides were not due to the farmer’s personal wishes or his situation—they occurred because the farmers were encouraged to end their lives by their relatives. The Government does not reliably pay compensation during droughts, but promptly pays if a suicide takes place .

With a new and rather obscure angle to the grievous situation, Indranil returned to Manipal, and discussed his changed views on the public perception of rural news with Prajwal Bhat and his other companions. They came to the realisation that the coverage by urban media giants failed to come to the crux of the matter in regards to a rural India, and were further encouraged to pursue their train of thought by various faculty members. Mr Raviraj Kini, their teacher for New Medias, decided to expound upon his students’ knowledge through open debates on mainstream media and other social issues.

Motivated by the sad state of affairs and a thirst to achieve something bigger, twenty students came together to finally form The Rural India Project, or TRIP. The members agreed upon a basic methodology to persuade villagers to tell their stories. While it was important to spend enough time in the village to secure the trust of the locals, learning the native dialect was deemed equally essential. The students thereby dedicated four weeks of their vacation to this, which in turn gave them an edge over reputed media bodies.

Anxious to begin, six advocates took up the challenge. During their stay, they learnt that children trusted faster, and were more enthusiastic. Gaining their goodwill was imperative in gaining the trust of adults in the village. The ‘storytellers’ noticed that the natives even judged them on the choice of their village host. Once the stories were noted, they were then communicated to the rest of the team, which was a task in itself, due to poor mobile coverage.

The team at TRIP strived to share the stories they were discovering, but did not feel the need to propagate it through written word every time. They wanted to narrate stories from these regions in a positive and empathetic manner. Doing this required intensive research. Most villagers gave varying descriptions for particular incidents, and it was up to TRIP to string them together in a concise manner. To make matters worse, news organisations had begun to slowly move away from Tier-2 cities due to digitisation, and the risk of losing alternative viewpoints in rural areas became larger.

TRIP initially used Facebook as a medium. The team then decided to share its vision and journey at The Manipal Conclave in 2015, with TRIP’s segment being the only media-based presentation. This was a stepping stone to greater things, with the next call-up being TEDxDTU. Unfortunately, a late application resulted in TRIP not being able to secure a spot at the event.

However, TEDxDTU observed TRIP’s activities in the year to come, and rewarded their hard work by inviting them to present at their next edition, and their efforts came to further fruition, with colleges from Symbiosis and DU wanting to associate with them. They were asked questions galore, the need for storytelling was discussed, and three different stories were talked about. At the end of their presentation, they were asked questions by a man from rural Haryana, who validated the veracity of their statements, and pledged to offer his dedicated support.

The TRIP website, representing the culmination of the organisation’s tireless efforts, went live on 10th April, 2017 with the assistance of IECSE and Darren Ivy. The form of the story depends on how the storyteller wants the audience to perceive it, and so there are pictures, essays and reports to compliment each account. TRIP aims to instil a drive to help villagers in everyone who chances upon each narrative, and their continued success is simply testament.

All pictures courtesy of The Rural India Project